When walking into a parent-to-be or new parents home, it's common to find several baby books laying around. These manuals cover every "first" and early milestone to help prep parents. But—surprise, surprise—a lot of parenting still happens after those first few months.
"Starting at around eight months, a shift occurs, and a baby becomes a truly emotionally responsive person who pays attention to others," says Harvey Karp, M.D. "Emotional resilience, confidence, gratification delay, self-worth, and intimacy aren't things that just happen."
That eight-month point is where those baby books you bought while pregnant seem to end and your ability to run to the bookstore or casually browse Amazon's book list is cut short by your newly waddling baby who refuses to ever sit still, even in your carrier.
If you just finished reading Dr. Karp's best-selling book "Happiest Baby on the Block" and you're hungry for his insights on what to do now that Baby is a Toddler, we've got you covered. Dr. Karp sat down with Parents.com to dissect some invaluable information from his follow-up book, "Happiest Toddler on the Block."
"My job in writing this book was to give very practical and actionable advice to make the parent's life more successful," he says. "Advice cannot be to just 'love your child more' and everything will be okay."
Dig into his top advice for your next stage of parenting:
1. Your job is to civilize your toddler. That's right, if you haven't yet learned, toddlers are primitives and completely uncivilized. Saying "please" and "thank you," waiting in line, and sharing toys, are all things toddlers need to learn. You can start encouraging this behavior when your little one is as young as eight months old.
2. Reciprocity rules. Turn-taking during conversations is key. "You don't want a friend who doesn't know that," says Dr. Karp. "You won't feel valued if no one asks how you're doing and how you're feeling if you've asked first." The rule of reciprocity is important in communication with toddlers as well. They have to learn early on that their feelings are not only heard but are also valued.
3. Teach when to listen, not speak. When you get upset, the golden rule of reciprocity gets thrown at the window and the Fast Food Rule comes into play. "This means that whoever is the most upset, gets to talk first and talk for as long as they need to," says Dr. Karp. "The other person echos back what they're telling you with compassion, kindness, and understanding."
4. Speak in a way toddlers will understand. Dr. Karp says to speak Toddlerese, which is made up of three things: short phrases, lots of repetition, and mirroring one-third of emotion in gestures and tone of voice. "Parents are very good at this when children are happy," says Dr. Karp. "It's when they're frustrated, angry, or scared that parents turn into little psychiatrists with different tones of voice who try and 'teach' and 'explain' the situation."
5. Help your child feel acknowledged. Another part of Toddlerese is speaking in short phrases to help your child understand his emotions. For example, if your child is frustrated his friend isn't sharing a toy, say, 'You want that! And your friend is playing with it! So you don't have it now! You waited and waited and he's still playing with it!" Acknowledge his feelings. "Emotions make us healthy," says Dr. Karp. "If you express your emotions in a safe environment, you end up being healthier—from body to brain."
6. Encourage toddlers to express their emotions. You have a right half of the brain and a left half of the brain. The left half is about language, problem-solving, and patience. The right half is the emotional one. It's nonverbal communication and understanding the overall message (not necessarily actual words)."When toddlers get upset and their left brains aren't available to them, they have two choices," Dr. Karp says. "They will either scream loud, have a meltdown, and show their emotions as they should, or they crawl into a shell and calm down. By not allowing a child to show his emotions, it teaches them that no one ever really wants to learn and understand their feelings."
7. Recognize good and bad behaviors. Dr. Karp separates behaviors into three categories: green light (good behaviors to be encouraged), yellow light (things parents don't like and want to stop), and red light (things that are dangerous or aggressive and need to stop immediately). One technique Dr. Karp uses to address behaviors is called Gossiping. "We believe more of what we hear than what's told directly to us," Dr. Karp starts. "If you hear someone gossiping in the hallway, you'll believe it more. Praise your child and then five minutes later repeat this praise to someone else in a loud whisper so your child overhears. It will make the child feel good." This works for criticizing bad behavior as well.
8. Playing the boob is a great technique. "Toddlers are nonstop losers," Dr. Karp says. "They're slower and weaker, they don't get to make decisions, and they just want to feel like winners a lot of the time. So let them." Dr. Karp says to let children feel victorious. Have a race and let them win, have a pillow fight and let them win—anything where the child feels like he (the smaller one) defeated and won a great big challenge. "When you do things like this 10 times a day, your child will want to do things to make you happy because you've made him feel so good all along."
9. Respect is more important than love. This is the biggest takeaway you can get here. You can be in a relationship with someone who respects you but doesn't love you and that's not the best feeling, but it's okay. If you reverse that and are with someone who loves you, but doesn't respect you, it will make you feel terrible. "Convey respect with techniques like Toddlerese, fast food, and green light," says Dr. Karp. Listen, be available, and be present. You have to pay attention and acknowledge."
Harvey Karp, MD, FAAP, is the author of Happiest Toddler on the Block and creator of the SNOO Smart Sleeper